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US lacks intelligence on Horn of Africa

Feb 28, 2007 (WASHINGTON) — The Horn of Africa doesn’t get enough attention from intelligence agencies, even as the region rises as a source of terrorist threats, U.S. officials said.

"We have reasonable focus on the area, but in all candor, (given) the focus on Iraq and Al-Qaida ... it probably is not as robust as we’d all like it," Director of National Intelligence J. Michael McConnell said.

McConnell was part of a panel of U.S. intelligence officials who testified for the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.

Experts highlighted how ungoverned regions, particularly in the Middle East and Africa, provide opportunities for Al-Qaida to establish a haven. In particular, the level of lawlessness in Somalia and the lingering presence of the Islamic Courts movement indicate that the East African country could become a hub for Islamists.

"The fact that there is no control provides the opportunity for Al-Qaida or Al-Qaida affiliates ... to operate from there and plan from there and to create instability in the rest of Africa," said Lt. Gen. Michael D. Maples, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency.

Thomas Fingar, the deputy director of National Intelligence for Analysis and chairman of the National Intelligence Council, agreed.

"The region as a whole — even those areas that are not currently afflicted by the kind of violence we see in Somalia and Sudan — is fragile. ... The danger of the instability and therefore the ungoverned spaces expanding is very high," Fingar said.

Officials explained that long-standing conflicts in the Horn of Africa have complex religious, tribal, ethnic, and economic dimensions that most U.S. analysts do not thoroughly understand.

"This is an area that, as a function of higher priorities over a decade or more, has the fewest analysts, the most junior analysts, and the ones with ... the least experience on the ground," Fingar said.

(UPI)